Federal Water Tap, November 24: Congressional Committees Discuss Toxic Algae, Water Conflict

The Rundown

Lawmakers asked questions about toxic algae and international water conflicts, while regulators looked at liquefied natural gas terminals and pipelines. The Supreme Court appointed two special masters for interstate water lawsuits, and the president’s climate task force released adaptation recommendations.

“Some may believe that the solution to this drinking water problem is a standard for microcystin. But that would require water utilities to treat the symptom of harmful algal blooms rather than addressing the underlying root causes. One tool for addressing these causes that cannot be overlooked is the regulation of nutrient pollution.” – Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY), speaking at a House committee hearing on toxic algal blooms.

“We believe a solution to this problem requires attention both on source water protection as well as infrastructure in drinking water treatment facilities. Without both of those steps it will be very difficult to manage this problem.” – Peter Grevatt, director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water, speaking at the House committee hearing on toxic algal blooms.

By the Numbers

25 inches: Rain that fell in two days in April 2014 in Perdido Beach, Alabama (White House climate task force)
14 percent: Average decline in the Western United States snowpack between 1955 and 2013 (EPA)

Reports and Studies

Lake Michigan and Climate Change
As the planet warms, the Lake Michigan Basin will have a longer growing season, which will decrease both soil moisture and late-summer river flows, according to a U.S. Geological Survey analysis. The basin will also see a transition from a hydrological system defined by a spring snowmelt peak to a system in which runoff is more evenly distributed.

News Briefs

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will publish health guidelines by next spring for two toxins produced by algal blooms, according to Peter Grevatt, director of the Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water. The EPA will release a “health advisory” for cylindrospermopsin and microcystin, which shut down the drinking water system in Toledo, Ohio for two days in August. Grevatt was made the announcement at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on toxic algal blooms.

A health advisory is not a regulation. It will provide guidance on four items: the physical properties of the toxin, recommended technology for detection, safe concentrations in drinking water, and recommended treatment technology.

Water Conflict
Dams under construction in East Africa and Central Asia could lead to tension and conflict, according to experts testifying before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee. The three witnesses offered several recommendations for American diplomatic policy that would help avert serious conflict: tie U.S. foreign aid to the treatment of people displaced by dam-building, assist water-sharing treaty negotiations, and support research and monitoring of river flows and glaciers.

Climate Adaptation
Global warming is occurring and consideration of its effects should be a normal part of the federal political process, according to a group of governors, mayors, county officials, and tribal leaders. The task force of local officials was created by President Obama in November 2013 to advise the federal government on how it can help communities adapt to climate change. The 56-page report offers three dozen recommends that are organized by seven themes, most of which involve communication, data, and investment.

Water Lawsuits
The U.S. Supreme Court appointed “special masters” in two interstate river disputes. The special master holds hearings and submits a report and recommendations to the court.

Ralph Lancaster will oversee a lawsuit between Florida and Georgia over water flows in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, which the two states share, along with Alabama. This is the fourth time that Lancaster has been appointed special master, a record. Florida filed the lawsuit in October 2013, and the court agreed earlier this month to take up the case.

Gregory Grimsal will hear the case between Texas and New Mexico over the Rio Grande. Texas filed the lawsuit in January 2013, and the court agreed in March to hear Texas’s allegation that New Mexico is pumping too much groundwater from the basin.

LNG: Oregon
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released a draft environmental review of a liquefied natural gas terminal proposed for Coos Bay, Oregon and a connector pipeline. The review found “limited” negative environmental consequences – mainly for wetlands, coastal habitats, and streams – that can largely be avoided with proper planning.

Approval of the 232-mile pipeline requires changes to the management plans for four Bureau of Land Management districts and three National Forest districts. The changes cut out habitat protections for bird species in construction zones and allow tree-cutting where the pipeline would cross streams. Public comments by February 13, 2015 at www.ferc.gov referencing docket number CP13-483-000 and CP13-492-000.

LNG: Texas
The Department of Energy will allow a terminal in Freeport, Texas to export liquefied natural gas to countries that do not have a free-trade agreement with the United States.

On the Radar

Invasive Species
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Chicago office will begin an environmental review of measures to keep unwanted non-native fish from moving between the Mississippi River Basin and the Great Lakes Basin. The review will focus on physical barriers at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam in Joliet, Illinois. Comments on the scope of the study are being accepted through January 16 and can be submitted at http://glmris.anl.gov/.

Lake Erie
The scientists that advise the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hold a meeting to discuss the models used to set phosphorus targets for Lake Erie. High phosphorus levels contribute to toxic algal outbreaks. The meeting will be December 10, in Chicago.

Natural Gas Pipeline
FERC will prepare an environmental review of a plan to build 1,320 kilometers (820 miles) of natural gas pipeline in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. The pipeline would be built by Rover Pipeline LLC, a subsidiary of Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

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